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Harvard Posee Tierras en el País y Sus Alumnos la Acusan de Explotarlas Mal

October 25, 2013

They are managed through two public limited companies with offices in Buenos Aires -Las Misiones SA and Evasa SA- and are dedicated to the industrial plantation of pines and eucalyptus.    

Harvard University has 87,884 hectares in Argentina, which are located in the heart of one of the largest freshwater reserves on the planet: Esteros del Iberá, in Corrientes.

They are managed through two public limited companies with offices in Buenos Aires -Las Misiones SA and Evasa SA- and are dedicated to the industrial plantation of pines and eucalyptus.

The economic benefits obtained by the production and sale of wood are used to finance part of the educational activity of excellence promoted by the North American house of studies. In the same way, according to official records, Harvard exploits natural resources in different parts of the world. This is, therefore, the local history of an unexpected foreign landowner.

Last week, in Boston, a group of students, professors and graduates presented a report to the authorities in which it states that the venture in Corrientes is damaging the environment. The study claims that Harvard has expanded the plantations within the Iberá Natural Reserve, over areas where it is not allowed and on lands of nearby communities.

According to residents and scientists consulted, afforestation reduced biodiversity: it produced bird migration, the death of plant species and changed the composition of the ecosystem, since trees absorb large amounts of water and dry out wetland extensions.

Residents, the study says, are also concerned about long-term soil damage and access to drinking water. Cited at work, inhabitants of towns such as San Miguel and Chavarria say that they had to deepen their water wells several meters because, at a certain level, the bed had dried up. It is also warned by the damage caused on the provincial roads by trucks that take wood from the fields.

"Harvard has achieved high profits in Corrientes by taking advantage of a climate that leads to rapid growth rates, a legal framework that grants tax benefits to foreign investors and an attractive image of corporate responsibility," said Sam Wohns, one of the students who did the field work.

"We suspected that the university had unethical investments, and now we can prove it," adds Wohns, "I was also struck by the precarious conditions of the employees of the foresters, Harvard says to accept good practices, but the settlers live in irregular contractual situations."

Wohns continues: "Most of the plantations are in the estuaries, according to the documents of the company, there should not be a pine there, but they do not respect their statutes: they plant on the bodies of water and dry the soil" .

Wohns (28) is in his fourth year of Political Economy. He is a member of the Coalition for Responsible Investment of Harvard, a group that together with the Oakland Institute (the report is signed by the two organizations) is dedicated to audit the business of the house of studies outside the United States. Through the Harvard Managment Compañy (HMC), the university administers a fund of 32 billion dollars. In recent years, much of that money has been invested in natural resources. The list of countries in which it is invested is infinite: it goes from the Cayman Islands to New Zealand, passing through almost all of South America.

For the two local companies, HMC paid 55.2 million dollars. The lands of Las Misiones SA belonged to the Pérez Companc family until 2002, when the North American Douglas Tompkins bought them, several times denounced for water control. In 2007 the magnate decided to sell, and through an investment fund came into the hands of Harvard, which owns 100% of the share package. The lands of Evasa SA correspond to fractions of other fields that HMC had to add up in order to obtain the tax benefits that the Ministry of Agriculture offers to the lumber companies.

Clarín communicated with the authorities of Harvard to know his position. And the spokesman of the presidency, Kevin Galvin, responded: "The projects are in legal areas and are managed diligently in order to minimize the impact on wetlands, they work with the full support of authorities and have not been objected by the Argentine Government. Evasa obtained important quality certifications and Las Misiones hopes to achieve it soon. "

It contrasts with the words of Wohns, who on Wednesday along with a group of comrades participated in a march to demand action from the Harvard authorities. "When I saw how the plantations invaded the estuaries, I felt distressed," he said.

He concluded: "As a Harvard student, I am one of those who uses the money that these companies earn, but I should not benefit from environmental destruction."